20 May 2019

NZ-funded parliament in Niue runs into legal dispute

11:24 am on 20 May 2019

Niue is building a new multi-million dollar parliament funded by New Zealand, which will replace its aging and cyclone-weathered Fale Fono.

Niue and New Zea land flags raised outside the fono.

Niue and New Zea land flags raised outside the fono. Photo: RNZ/ Sally Round

But the project has already run into trouble, with the government breaching Niuean laws by not publicly tendering the contract, according to an opposition MP seeking a court injunction to stop work on it.

The government's handling of the development comes just months after New Zealand warned Niue over its management of donor funds on projects.

The new parliament plans, which have not previously been reported, would include a steel-enforced 3-level building able to withstand category-five natural disasters, according to a report prepared by cabinet and tabled at a recent parliamentary assembly. It said the current building was unstable and unsafe.

The total cost of the project is not detailed in the report but a spokesperson for New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) said it was providing $US3.3 million.

The development is also the subject of a motion filed in Niue's High Court this month by opposition MP Terry Coe, who claims the government did not follow "the proper tendering procedures".

The motion seeks a court injunction to "put on hold the commencement of construction of the new Fale Fono building until a completed and proper tendering procedure for the construction".

"They didn't tender it, they just gave it to a person after having a discussion," Mr Coe said in an interview.

Under the Niue Assembly Members' Interests Act 2006, government contracts over $US6,550 must be publicly tendered and published at least twice in the media before closing.

Niue's government did not respond to repeated requests for comment and RNZ Pacific could not independently verify whether there was an open tender.

But the cabinet report said that there would be a "selective procurement" process involving just three suppliers. It is unclear whether that took place.

Adding to the problems, Mr Coe said initial work by the contractor, which he identified as Auckland-based DTB Construction, had been stalled by landowner opposition.

Fale fono, Niue

The exising Fale Fone in Niue Photo: RNZ/ Sally Round

"There's about two or three families [that] are disputing the land," he said.

Mr Coe's claims contradict the cabinet report, which said work was not due to start until June, with a completion deadline of just over a year.

The cabinet report said the quality, cost and timeliness of the project could not be guaranteed if work did not begin immediately.

Under the new building's goals, the report listed: "No time like the present."

DTB Construction could not be reached for comment.

The MFAT spokesperson said the project was the responsibility of Niue.

"It is for the Government of Niue to make decisions in line with Niue's own procurement and legal processes."

Last year, New Zealand's Auditor-General warned Niue over revenue shortfalls and budget blowouts due to poor accounting processes.

It said there were also concerns around the management of donor funds, which were used on projects "frequently behind schedule and over budget".

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